Me and My Father

Next Friday - Good Friday - I will be waking up early to take my father to Bridgeport, so he can take the ferry to Port Jefferson, Long Island, where my Uncle Michael lives. My father isn't allowed to drive right now because of his drunk driving recidivism, and my mother will be watching my niece, so I'll be the driver.

In light of my recent post about trying to change, I suppose I can look to my father for some guidance. We've never had a good relationship - our relationship was defined by fear, namely, my fear of daddy.

Daddy woke up early every day - before dawn, most of the time. He'd be at work an hour before I ever got out of bed. He worked 6 days a week, 10 hours a day. Monday through Friday, he worked as a carpenter for a big construction company; Saturdays, he did contracting work, mostly for friends and people who got his number from friends.

On Mondays, when daddy got home from work, my older sister and I would disappear to our room. We wouldn't want to come out until we knew what kind of mood he was in, and on Mondays, he was usually in a bad mood - the Irish club, where he would go to drink, was closed on Monday.

Some days he would come home after hoisting a few at the club, and he'd be in a cheerful mood. He'd walk in the door, his 6'4" frame ducking as he walked under the overhead light in the kitchen, and he'd swoop up my sister and I in his arms. He smelled like sweat and sawdust and cigarettes and beer, and his beard would be coming in red, although his hair was black.

On good mood days, he would sit down and my sister and I would each take off one of his boots, and peel off his white tube socks. After dinner, we knew exactly how he liked his tea, and he would sit on the couch and fall asleep with a toothpick in his mouth.

Some days he would come home in what appeared to be a good mood, but it was really the Crazy Mood, the mood that could turn on you and backhand you across the face. We learned how to tiptoe around daddy, to be invisible and unnoticed.

He was in a crazy mood the day he tried to hit my sister with a lead pipe. And the day he punched me in the nose because I was washing the dishes too slowly. And the day he punched me so many times my whole back was black and blue because I was jumping on my bed.

My mother would sometimes take my father's good moods as an opportunity to talk to him about things that would put him a bad mood - we always kind of resented her for that. When he was in a crazy mood, she would sometimes pack all of us kids into the car and start driving to New York, but we rarely got past the caterpillar bridge in Middletown before she would turn back.

As my sister and I got older, the physical abuse subsided, except for one huge incident when T. turned 18 and moved out of the house. My father forbade any of us from saying her name, talking to her, or reminding him that she existed. And one day, I got caught talking to my sister on the phone, and my father picked up a wing chair and slammed it down on my head. I was 16 years old at the time, and I don't even remember getting hurt, I think because I was so furious. I barely remember what happened after that, but my mother tells me she found me two hours later hiding under the picnic table in our backyard.

So you can see why my relationship with my father was defined by fear. He was fucking scary!

Despite all that, my father also could be tender. The back half acre of our yard was a field for many years, and when my father finally cut the field down with a scythe, he found a nest of baby rabbits. He carefully scooped out the sleeping bunnies, finished mowing the field down, and replaced them back in their nest. And when we got splinters, daddy was the one who could take them out without making us cry.

My father would never say he was proud of me, and except for once, he never came to any of my concerts, plays, or softball games. But when I went to the club, his friends always seemed to know what was going on in my life, so clearly, whatever he couldn't say to me, he could say to them.

When I moved out, I basically cut my father out of my life. I didn't do it in a ritualistic, decisive way - I just stopped talking to him.

Lately, my relationship with my father has changed. I can't imagine a time when he would call me to take him on a drive. He's planning to do some landscaping at our house this summer, and he's talked about other projects he'd like to do at our house. It's kind of weird, because we've never talked about things that happened in the past, but I feel like I know how he feels, and he knows how I feel, and we're just putting it behind us.

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